Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Nov. 17

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune on a recent judicial decision expanding courtroom access in the George Floyd case:

Although Minnesota prosecutors are unhappy about the change, Minnesotans should applaud a recent judicial decision to allow cameras and audio in the courtroom during the George Floyd murder trial.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill issued the historic ruling late last week, rightly arguing that the March trial should be livestreamed because of the national and international interest in the case and the limited courtroom space and public access to the proceedings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, state prosecutors filed a motion asking Cahill to reconsider his order, reiterating objections the attorney general’s office raised in July. At that time, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s team said that while his office supported a public trial, ” … the State is concerned that live audio and visual coverage in the courtroom may create more problems than they will solve.”

They also argued that live audio and visual coverage could alter the way lawyers present evidence, subject trial participants to greater media scrutiny and be intimidating to witnesses — all problems that could affect conducting a fair trial.

Cahill made the right call. It’s in the best interest of trial participants and the public for this high-profile trial to be as accessible as possible. As Cahill wrote, the “only way to vindicate the defendants’ constitutional right to a public trial and the media’s and public’s constitutional rights of access to criminal trials is to allow audio and video coverage of the trial.”

The trial for former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao will be closely followed. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s May 25 death while in police custody; the others are charged with aiding and abetting him. All four are free on bail.

While many other states have permitted cameras in the courtroom, Minnesota has rarely done so. The Star Tribune and other news media organizations have long advocated for greater public access.

In making his decision, Cahill made the case that cameras can be allowed in such a way that protects the rights of trial participants (for example, by not showing the jury) and the ability of the news media to provide live coverage. He cited both the First Amendment guarantee of press and public access to trials as well as the Sixth Amendment guarantee that the public may see that defendants are “fairly dealt with and not unjustly condemned.”

Social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic have restricted courtroom access, Cahill noted, and for the Floyd trial those constraints would allow little “if any” room for families and friends of Floyd and the officers, as well as the public and news media.

Cahill’s ruling is well-reasoned and fair. Minnesotans should hope it will lead to greater access to the state’s courtrooms even after the pandemic has passed.

Online: https://www.startribune.com

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Nov. 17

The Orange County Register on a dinner party hosted by California’s governor that has drawn COVID-19 criticism:

The French Laundry up in Yountville isn’t just another good California restaurant. It has the coveted three stars from the real French guys, the Michelin Guide. Chef Thomas Keller has surrounded the place with a three-acre biodynamic garden where he grows most of his vegetables, fruits and herbs. Tuesday night’s tasting menu began with oysters and caviar and built its way toward a “Dégustation of Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope with French green lentils, honey poached cranberries and red cabbage ‘consommé.’”

Unless, that is, you opted in for the “Beef and Broccoli” supplement, which involves Japanese wagyu steak, and adds another $100 to the bill.

And, since the prix fixe is already $350 per person, that may not be in the household budget, no matter how fine a touch the charcoal master has with the hibachi out back.

But, famously, The French Laundry was in the household budget for Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife earlier this month. The dinner the state’s first couple attended was at a table for 12, a birthday party for an old friend who also happens to be a registered lobbyist whose job is to sway policy and legislation in California.

Newsom paid his own bill, so that’s not the issue. The issue is that the bash involved members of more than three other households chowing down together at a pandemic time when the governor’s own COVID-19 guidelines frown on such large gatherings.

At a time when other Californians are coming to grip with the fact that, if we play by the governor’s rules, we won’t have Thanksgiving with our extended families this year, for the first time ever.

For a governor who wants us in lockdown, the optics are atrocious. Jerry Brown would have moved into a single-room cell in a monastery by now, to set an example. Newsom instead paints the town red.

At least the governor acknowledges the blunder. He now says that after seeing the size of the dinner party, “Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back, got in my car and drove back to my house.” That house in which his four privately schooled children are no longer stuck, because they can afford “classroom learning.”

During this crisis, Californians deserve a governor who actually steps away from such tables rather than talking about doing so later.

Online: https://www.ocregister.com

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Nov. 17

The Houston Chronicle on President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan:

Even in these divided times, there are few who would disagree with the sentiment behind President Trump’s tweeted desire to bring the “BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”

The president’s campaign promise to end the “forever wars” that began after 9/11 is popular across a broad political spectrum. One version of such a pledge has even been endorsed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, considered some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

Entering the 20th year of hostilities, we also strongly support resolving these conflicts and removing as many soldiers from harm’s way as possible.

But withdrawing our armed forces, even with the best of intentions, is not something that should be done without careful and deliberate planning by competent military experts to guarantee the safety of our troops, protect our allies and preserve the successes of the mission.

Given the president’s recent purge of the Defense Department, including the firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, his chaotic approach to military and foreign affairs and his unhinged response to his election loss to President-Elect Joe Biden, Americans have a right to be deeply concerned over whether any of the required benchmarks are being met.

Alarm is not a partisan or an anti-Trump reaction.

As acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced on Tuesday that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia the move had already received strong pushback from many of the president’s strongest congressional supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President (Barack) Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday. “It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I, said. “President Trump is once again choosing the wrong way, and we can’t let U.S. national security and our relationships with steadfast partners become a casualty of President Trump’s wounded ego.”

This scrutiny by the co-equal branch of government is a welcome first step in making certain that any troop withdrawals are done safely and properly.

The order would reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and the number of forces in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by Jan 15, just five days before Biden is expected to be sworn into office.

The greatest concern is whether those numbers are sufficient to maintain the peace and guard against new outbreaks of terrorism that would harm our allies and threaten American interest in the region and around the world.

It would help if we could have confidence in the judgment of Miller, the acting Pentagon chief hastily put in place by Trump to replace Esper, who had advised the president that the conditions were not adequate in Afghanistan to support further troop withdrawals and that doing so could undermine peace talks with the Taliban.

This is exactly the kind of situation we feared would happen with a capricious commander in chief disrupting key leadership positions to enforce personal loyalty and get the answers he wants to hear. That is not how it should be done.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among those seeking to enforce some accountability on the president’s actions.

“A premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests,” McCaul said in a statement. “We need to ensure a residual force is maintained for the foreseeable future to protect U.S. national and homeland security interests and to help secure peace for Afghanistan.”

We would like nothing better than for all of our troops stationed in more than 150 countries around the world to be able to share the holidays this year with their families. But that is not possible if we also want to keep striving toward a world at peace and to protect our nation.

Too many lives are at stake to allow hasty and arbitrary decisions based on personal or political purposes. Congress may be limited in what it can do legislatively but it must still ask the hard questions and wield its political leverage to keep a president from weakening the nation, compromising allies and endangering our troops.

Online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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Nov. 17

The Washington Post on whether the G-20 nations will confront human rights allegations against Saudi Arabia at their virtual summit:

Saudi Arabia has spent millions in the past two years seeking to whitewash an image tarnished by war crimes in Yemen and the brutal repression of domestic dissent. The effort was meant to culminate this weekend as it hosted the summit of the Group of 20 nations in Riyadh. The event will not now be so high-profile: Because of the covid-19 epidemic, the summit will be held virtually. But the regime of King Salman and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will still receive an undeserved validation — unless G-20 leaders use the summit to call attention to human rights activists who have been unjustly imprisoned.

A number of Saudis who peacefully campaigned for women’s rights have languished in prison for years, despite never having been convicted of a crime. They include Loujain al-Hathloul, Nassima al-Sada, Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya’a al-Zahrani and Samar Badawi, who were arrested in 2018 after advocating for the right to drive and for an end to the male guardianship system. Activist Salah al-Haidar, a U.S. citizen, has been jailed since April 2019. His mother, women’s rights activist Aziza al-Yousef, was released shortly before that after being held for a year, but she has been banned from leaving the kingdom.

A number of the female prisoners were held incommunicado and tortured before being transferred to the prison system. Ms. Hathloul was abducted from the United Arab Emirates and transported back to Saudi Arabia before her arrest; she has reported to the official Saudi Human Rights Commission about the abuse she suffered, which included beatings, electric shocks and sexual assault. …

A year after their arrests, the female activists were put on trial. Ms. Hathloul was charged with “crimes” such as giving briefings on human rights to Western diplomats and journalists. The proceedings soon lapsed; there have been no hearings in more than 18 months. Instead, Ms. Hathloul was offered her freedom in exchange for testifying that she was not tortured. She refused. Since last March, authorities have restricted her meetings with her parents, prompting her to launch hunger strikes. Her family says they have not seen or heard from her since Oct. 26, when she told her parents she was beginning another hunger strike.

Leaders of G-20 nations, particularly from the democracies, never should have allowed Saudi Arabia to assume the presidency of the group or host a summit while these outrages were ongoing. They will compound the error if they participate in this weekend’s events while remaining silent about the imprisoned activists. They should publicly demand that Ms. Hathloul and other imprisoned activists be freed — and make clear that the Saudi regime will not have normal relations with their governments until they are.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com

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Nov. 17

The Wall Street Journal on claims by President Donald Trump about issues with Dominion Voting machines:

President Trump has so far been unwilling to concede to Joe Biden, and his latest argument is that the voting machines must have been rigged. Where’s the evidence? Strong claims need strong proof, not rumors and innuendo on Twitter.

Chatter is swirling around Dominion Voting, a company that supplies equipment in some 28 states. What seems to have launched this theory was an early misreport of results in Antrim County, Mich. In 2016 Mr. Trump won 62% of its 13,600 ballots, so eyebrows rose this year when the initial tallies showed Mr. Biden up by 3,000.

In reality, Mr. Trump had won 61% of Antrim County. The unofficial reporting was wrong, but the underlying votes were counted correctly….

A different problem hit Gwinnett County, Ga. Officials had trouble with a Dominion module for adjudicating absentee ballots, for example, if the voter put a check mark in the circle instead of filling it in. Some adjudicated ballots, the county said, “were displayed as in progress but would not move over to be accepted.” The county ended up re-adjudicating some votes until Nov. 5. Sounds like the usual boring IT snafu.

Other pundits mash together all sorts of stuff. A couple of counties in Georgia had trouble with electronic poll books, but that would affect wait times at precincts, not final vote totals. There’s footage from a House hearing a few years ago, at which Princeton Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel said that voting machines could theoretically be hacked. Where’s the proof they actually were in 2020? “Vulnerabilities,” Mr. Appel wrote in a blog post Friday, “are not the same as rigged elections, especially when we have paper ballots in almost all the states.”

Mr. Trump was even further astray last week in a tweet. “REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE. DATA ANALYSIS FINDS 221,000 PENNSYLVANIA VOTES SWITCHED FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP TO BIDEN. 941,000 TRUMP VOTES DELETED.” Dominion says it’s “impossible” that its machines deleted nearly a million Trump votes in Pennsylvania, where it serves only 14 counties. With turnout at 76%, it adds, those counties registered 1.3 million votes.

Others have tried to draw lines between Dominion and prominent Democrats. In the category of no good deed goes unpunished, the company in 2014 agreed to donate voting machines to “emerging and post-conflict democracies” via a Clinton Foundation initiative. This shows exactly nothing about Dominion’s current operations. The company says it has no ownership relationships “with any member of the Pelosi family, the Feinstein family, or the Clinton Global Initiative.”

Another rumor is that Dominion has deep ties with Smartmatic, which has supplied voting systems to Venezuela, where the ruling regime manipulates elections. Both companies deny this. Smartmatic says it “has never provided Dominion Voting Systems with any software, hardware or other technology.” Dominion says they “do not collaborate in any way and have no affiliate relationships or financial ties.” In 2009, Dominion adds, Smartmatic “licensed Dominion machines for use in the Philippines,” but the contract “ended in a lawsuit.”

No voting system is foolproof, and hiccups are inevitable in a country with roughly 3,000 counties. …

But so far there’s no good evidence of voting problems that would come close to Mr. Biden’s lead of 73,000 votes in Pennsylvania or 145,000 in Michigan. In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State last week ordered a hand recount of all five million ballots. The effort turned up 2,600 missing votes that Floyd County forgot to upload. Adding them would cut Mr. Biden’s lead to slightly north of 13,000. But the error isn’t Dominion’s fault, and it better hope no glitches are revealed, given its 10-year contract with the state for $107 million.

If Georgia’s recount doesn’t find big irregularities, then these claims should be put to rest. In the George W. Bush years, the conspiratorial left focused on Diebold, a maker of electronic voting machines. It would be a mistake for anyone on the right to go down a similar dead end, especially if Georgia’s paper ballots give the same result as the computers.

Online: https://www.wsj.com

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Nov. 17

The Khaleej Times on the complications of deploying a coronavirus vaccine globally:

Vaccines can take years to be ready for use. Yet, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, countries the world over have turbocharged science and we are seeing promising results from various corners. Moderna Inc is the second American company to have said that its experimental vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 infection.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and hopes are rising that we might have a vaccine soon to contain the pandemic. But this also bears asking the critical question, how well are the countries prepared to transport or receive these vaccines.

Almost 70 per cent of the global population must be inoculated to end the pandemic, as per the World Health Organization. And this could prove the biggest hurdle, considering many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America lack basic health infrastructure.

It would be a logistical nightmare in the face of tropical heat, remoteness of communities on islands and rural places, and a dearth of ultra-cold freezers for the safe transport of the vaccine that needs to be stored at sub 70 degree Celsius. The only way to end this paralysing pandemic is by widening the reach of the Covid vaccine. And that can only be done by building an infrastructure that allows everyone on the planet to be inoculated. No country can do this alone. It needs concerted efforts and generous support by rich countries. Solidarity will help us overcome this crisis.

Online: https://www.khaleejtimes.com

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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